Maheshwari, The Economic Times
20 November 2015
years ago, about 500 out of 600 operational handloom silk weavers
in Katoria village of Banka district in Bihar had shut shops amid
a demand slump and dwindling profits. "It was an exceptionally
bad year for us. Many left for Mumbai to look for jobs and youngsters
were not keen on taking forward the legacy," recalls Mohammad
Izzaz, a weaver whose family too had stopped making Banka silk
a year later.
That was then. Today, Izzaz and several other handloom artisans
in his village are back in action, weaving Banka silk sarees and
dress material for the booming ecommerce market. "One and
half years back, on an average, we would earn about Rs 30 per
day. Today it has increased to Rs 300 to Rs 400," says Izzaz,
25, who supplies to Indianroots.com and indianartizans.com.
Currently hundreds of Katoria residents are migrating back to
the village and weavers say around 150 otherwise mothballed handlooms
have restarted in the last one year.
Similar stories of revival in interest are emerging from traditional
handloom clusters across the countrybe it Paithan in Maharashtra
or Phulia in West Bengal, both known for their handwoven silk
sareeswith ecommerce companies such as Amazon, Flipkart, Snapdeal,
Jaypore and Craftsvilla giving them a new lease of life by helping
them to reach out to customers all over the country as well as
Leading ecommerce firms have already tied up with nearly 7,000
weavers to sell their products on their platforms and the number
is growing keeping with rising demand.
Amazon India, which launched a craft store before its festive
sales last month, has enlisted about 90 weavers and recorded a
threefold surge in demand during the festive season, its category
leader Mayank Shivam said.
India accounts for 95% of the world's handwoven fabrics and,
according to the textile ministry's estimates, handloom weaving
provides employment to more than 4.3 million weavers and allied
workers in the country.
But, with powerlooms and branded products sweeping the consumer
markets with cheaper products and newer designs, the handloom
industry has been going downhill over the years, forcing many
weavers in several traditional handloom hubs to migrate to other
regions and professions to earn their livelihood. According to
a labour ministry report, employment in the handloom/powerloom
sector declined by 11,000 as of March 2015 from a year earlier.
With the entry of ecommerce players, artisans can hope for a
revival in their fortunes as they get direct access to consumers
around the world and that too without having to deal with middlemen.
In June, Snapdeal partnered with Himachal Pradesh government
to launch a 'special ecommerce zone' to facilitate sale of local
handicraft and other products while Flipkart has launched 'India
Art House' to push traditional fashion.
Mumbai-based Craftsvilla, which has around 150 artisans supplying
art and craft to them, is working towards creating its own private
label where base-level weavers and artisans will make products
exclusively for them. "A lot of the traditional handwoven
designs have become old-fashioned," said Manoj Gupta, founder
of Craftsvilla. "We need to contemporise it for our young
shoppers. Thus, we are hiring NIFT designers to become the voice
of ethnic designs," he said.
The online industry is not only helping weavers expand nationally
but they are also proving a window of opportunity to sell their
products in the global market. That means the sellers don't necessarily
depend on seasonality.
Rahul Narvekar, CEO of Indianroots.com, said the portal gets
most of its orders from abroad, adding that it sold a handwoven
stole worth Rs 19 lakh in Malaysia a few months back.
Manish Ramakant, a weaver of Paithani silk sarees, said his business
has grown by 40% last year on the back of online orders from abroad.
"Demand for Paithani sarees is the highest during the wedding
season; rest of the months, we remained unemployed. However, online
international orders now ensures work round the clock today,"
With the newfound markets and vigour, Ramakant, 39, has now ventured
into home decor and has started interacting with buyers and designers
Experts point out that ecommerce players help handloom weavers
overcome their biggest challenge: easy and quality access to consumers.
At present handloom products are mostly sold through central
and state government emporiums. "The emporiums, run by bureaucrats,
are not well maintained. Hence, there is hardly any good retail
outlet for artisans," said Arvind Singhal, chairman and managing
director of consultancy firm Technopak.
Devangshu Dutta, CEO of retail consultancy firm Third Eyesight,
said the government should get out of retail business. "Business
is not a government's job. Its job is to run the country,"
he said. "The supplier, distributor and the consumer make
an ecosystem. Hence, this has to be individual and business-led.
I think the government should get out of the way."
Also, with most ecommerce players dealing directly with traditional
weavers, artisans are earning better margins that would otherwise
go to middlemen.
"I was affected by middlemen. Now, for the past one-and-half
years I have been working directly with designers and online companies.
I have cut down nearly 60% of middlemen," said Asif Ansari
who makes Maheshwari sarees. This has helped the weaver from Maheshwar
in Madhya Pradesh improve his margin to 35%-40% from earlier 15%-20%.
However, the world of ecommerce is not without any tension for
handloom weavers. Fear of duplication and lack of awareness among
consumers are among the main issues weavers face in the online
retail space. This sometimes force them to cut down their margins.
What is applicable to Katoria's Banka silk weavers is applicable
to any other industry or trade facing challenges of demand. One
of the problems facing many quality traditional sectors is the
absence of information about such products, especially luxury
or niche items as well as non-traditional art and craft. This
is where online retail, which doubles as shop and catalogue, can
be helpful. If online companies resurrect traditional sari production,
they can certainly do the same for artwork and handicrafts that
need to find their markets which are probably just waiting 'to
be told' that they are there to be procured.
(Published in The